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Generations Shabbat

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
Prize category
1 – 3 years
Target audience

Experience LOVE IN ACTION!

Picture a circle of elders seated in chairs or wheelchairs. On the floor in front of them are children crawling, sprawling, dancing, prancing and singing. We dwell in the sanctity of Shabbat together, learning chants and blessings, and sharing the Torah of our lives. “I never leave without tearing up at the beauty,” one participant commented. "This Shabbat service is like no other — the wisdom of the Torah put into direct practice — heart-opening, engaging, and joyous!"

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Shabbat is, without a doubt, one of the most profound contributions of Jewish wisdom. We invite everyone to take a pause from doing and to relish in being.

We're weaving multigenerational community to specifically counteract the fact that we often travel in narrow circles of people close to us in age. By increasing our social surface area, we connect with community members living through different stages of life. In so doing, we are living out the imperative from Pirke Avot to "not separate yourself from the community." By more broadly integrating elders we "Honor our Parents" who are so regularly forgotten in modern society.

The transmission of Jewish values must be embodied — not merely lip service — and by bringing Shabbat and Torah to a retirement community, we're meeting some of their needs while providing invaluable contact for our own children. When we chant "L'dor va'dor", the words are so vital; these really are generations, together.

The physical and emotional demands of both infants and elders are embraced and actively engaged in the midst of prayer. This is a testing ground and a testament to our practice of love and gratitude. We see and experience the Divine in each other.

Music heals. There are attendees who literally come alive when we chant and drum; those that wake up having been wheeled into the room, and those who dance, momentarily free from their dementia. The healing power of song opens hearts and minds and often helps tears to flow.

Shir Yaakov masterfully opens the meaning behind our prayers with short "divrei tefillah", or "words of prayer," which work on multiple levels simultaneously. Exploring the meaning of each of the morning prayers is an educational opportunity many are encountering for the first time. He has a knack for speaking in an engaging way to both the youngest and oldest in the room. He plays inside the occasional chaos and expands the frequent stillness, sculpting a sanctuary of sound, poetry, and holiness. He helps to weave a conversation on the weekly parsha between elder and child into a brilliant, bristling whole. The whole room shares a deep heart. "If I had known a Judaism like this," one 88-year-old participant commented, "my entire life would have been different."

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

GENERATIONS SHABBAT offers a Judaism that both children and elders can access: bite-sized, easy-to-follow, and engaging. The large-print prayer resources, engaging music, and authentic energy are thoroughly enjoyable. And by bringing it to the mobility-restricted, we meet an otherwise marginalized population where they are. We frequently welcome newcomers by saying "you don't need to be Jewish to do Jewish with us."

A rich multigenerational community is being built through the joy and peace of Shabbat. New relationships are being built on communal prayer and shared experience. New friendships are being forged among all ages. The ecology of giving strengthens and deepens our lives. Alienation is decreasing as a community of mutual benefit grows.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

"I'm a confirmed atheist...
and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
—a 97-year-old participant

CHILD: “Can we sing Muddy Onion?”
PARENT: “Do you mean Modah Ani (‘I am grateful’)?”
CHILD: “Yeah! That's my favorite song!”
—a two-year-old participant

"I play music from the morning prayers during the week when my daughters are having tantrums, and instant peace is the result time and time again."
—a mother of three girls under five-years-old whose daughters are regular attendees

The impact of Generations can be seen in the faces of those who attend. The older generation of adults, those residents between 65 and 100 years old, are routinely beaming while they sway to the rhythms of the music and song.  They beam as they watch the children sing, as they watch them dance, and as they watch them run around the room. They come alive hearing tunes both familiar and new. Many sing along, and all appear totally engaged and present, oftentimes, without prompt, calling out a question about a particular prayer or song. And what a gift it is to the children to see these elders, these "forgotten ones," who live in nursing homes and are often not seen or heard from, being included and cherished. This community is beautiful to behold, one that brings tears to the eyes of many of the participants, especially the parents who can sit back and watch what is unfolding before them.

In addition, many inter-generational relationships have formed between people who previously would have been isolated. Several residents are now participants in other Kol Hai activities and multiple requests have been made for more frequent services and events.

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

The wraparound nature of our multigenerational community, like our Torah scroll, is a circle. The end is evident in the beginning; the beginning embedded in the end. The energy and vitality and innocence and beauty of the kids is healing to the elders. Bringing our young ones to the elders' teaches them the gravitas of prayer, tradition, community, Shabbat. Seeing each other's bodies and hearing each other's stories is liberating, enlivening, and inspiring.